One of my favorite quotes in modern literature comes from Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The quote speaks to the conceptions, rather the misconceptions, of young love: “We accept the love we think we deserve.” This quote, and its implications of self love and self acceptance, kept ringing in my ears while reading the debut poetry book of Adam Cohen ’19, STARSHOW.
STARSHOW serves as a look into the darkest and most vulnerable parts of Cohen’s soul. It operates as a ballad for young queer individuals that deals with subjects from hookup culture in the LGBTQ community to the struggle with lost love and college angst. It similarly extends to the ubiquitous subjugation queer people feel in their everyday lives.
The book reads like a journal; I felt as if I were a fly on the wall, peering into the private life of Cohen, deriving artistic insight from his woes. The poems touch on everything from infatuated love affairs, such as in “Majorelle Blue,” to haute couture icons, such as in “Saint Mode;” from raucous drunken nights in “Kalahari Ferrari,” to the trials and tribulations of the college scene in “Cool Kids Club Forever.” The poems, though very different, operate together to form a beautiful collection depicting the queer condition, laced with celestial imagery that weaves itself in and out of every work, finding unity in their differing themes.
The book benefits from and finds beauty in its disorder. It is devoid of chronology and explicitness, which Cohen himself stated was purposeful. This trend was jarring at first, but as I completed the book, I realized how significant it was; the progression of poems follows a stream of consciousness style in which the reader experiences the randomness of human thought, and thus the humanity of the queer condition. One poem may be sad, the next hopeful, while the following has a resounding mood of melancholia. This uneven, emotionally exhausting structure is so symbolic of life as a queer individual, and therefore an effective way of reaching Cohen’s target audience.
This book lends itself to an aura of relatability as opposed to straightforward understanding. Many poems are shrouded in layers of metaphor and allegory — some are literal and others are not, and it is up to the reader to decide which are which. This lack of explicitness makes the book an intriguing experience, by forcing the reader to work to find the answers hidden within. We are able to glean an understanding of Cohen’s objective through the mood he creates with the help of said literary techniques and the celestial theme of glowing stars.
When I spoke to Cohen about his work, a common theme quickly arose; this book was written with the intention of “proclaiming divinity for queerness.” This sounded foreign to me, almost as if it were grandiloquence, but, as Cohen elaborated, I began to understand. The divinity of which Cohen spoke carries with it only minimal religious allusion and speaks more to a reclamation of identity. Divinity, in the eyes of Cohen, constitutes all feelings that are “right and good,” such as loving oneself unapologetically and being prideful of one’s identity.
Pride is a word that has become synonymous with the LGBTQ community. This pride is both loved and hated, idealized and denigrated, a dichotomy that is made very clear in the French language. Cohen’s work contains two poems written entirely in French, “Tout Sacré” and “Éclat.” Within these poems, Cohen sheds light on the two types of pride that are present in the French language: “la fierté” and ‘l’orgueil.” The former is the regular pride we have in ourselves, while the latter is the sin of pride, like hubris. In fact, it is within “Tout Sacré” that Cohen writes “L’orgueil n’existe pas,” “the sin of pride does not exist,” a concept that ties back into Cohen’s underlying theme of “proclaiming divinity for queerness.”
Cohen explained to me that queerness is often construed to exist only within the sexual realm. He continued by emphasizing that he wanted to utilize “religious motifs to define queer themes and give them some reverence,” to show that pride is not a sin. Cohen believes that one epidemic within the queer community is a lack of pride in the individual. To this, Cohen says “lets make hate a sin instead.” Cohen attempts, with his book STARSHOW, to “change the metrics of divinity to reflect true humanity.”
STARSHOW is a triumph for the Cornell queer community. Cohen compiled this book with a very specific audience in mind: his seventeen year-old self and anyone currently in that same, confused position. In his closing remarks in STARSHOW, Cohen states that the way to successfully operate in his community is to “[desire] more than you think you are worth,” to “accept the love [you] think [you] deserve.”
Cohen’s penultimate poem is the poignant “Self-Love Glows Pink.” Here, Cohen speaks directly to his audience, to his younger self, and tells of the the pain of heartbreak. This poem carries with it a resolution: one can admire the glow of the stars and long for their luminescence, but the first step in self love, and understanding one’s worth, is realizing that one is capable of glowing just as brightly as the stars, but in the healing color of pink. Glowing pink is believing that “L’orgueil n’existe pas,” knowing one’s self worth and never settling for less. STARSHOW artistically answers the rhetorical plea to be who we needed when we were younger. After all, it is we who know ourselves best.
Madeline Rutowski is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.